Education, success, and J. K. Rowling

Welcome to my second TED talk! Today I will be talking education, success, and having your J. K. Rowling moment in life.

The author of Harry Potter gave a commencement speech at Harvard, and this quote has always stood out to me from that speech:

“Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

How assuring it is to know that. It isn’t the same thing as “Things can’t get any worse,” which has made me feel sore. I’m learning what J. K. Rowling means is that the fact you have nothing can actually help you. Let rock bottom be your asset and strength.

Here, I will share my story. I spent years and a lot of money to become a teacher. I spent a lot of money taking tests, going to school, getting gas so that I could commute to school, and moving so that I could pursue teaching positions. I spent a lot of time doing everything that teachers are expected to do. All in all, teaching is an incredibly expensive endeavor in terms of money and time.

But that is not the worst part. When I became a teacher, I lost myself. I didn’t know who I was supposed to be. It felt like all of my best qualities–being personable, creative, passionate, kind, and accepting–did not help me at all. In fact, they hurt me. They made a subpar teacher and I struggled with getting students to listen to and respect me. I had a hard time with administrators and coworkers. Yet, I felt like I had to “work through” this because my parents wouldn’t let me quit, and because I had already spent so much on teaching. It made me extremely miserable until one day, I took the plunge, called my principal on the phone, and resigned from my job.

This is the cliche part of the story, where people say “When one door closes, another opens.” But I closed the door myself, and there isn’t another open. I’m just in the hallway, locked out but not having another room to go to.

In the past, I’ve always made sure I have one job or school lined up before one ended. Doors closing have never really bothered me because I knew where I’d go next. For the first time, I didn’t. At the moment, I’m not successful by any means. I’m at the least successful point in my life but I feel really happy with myself. Being compassionate is no longer a flaw. Being me, is alright.

At the same time, I start reaching out to editors and book people I follow on Twitter. The funny thing is that I never would’ve gotten on Twitter if it weren’t for this last job I had, where the school district required everyone to get a Twitter account. I came for the job and I stayed for my love of reading. Then I started following, commenting, and DMing these readers and authors and it’s been the best thing ever! I feel like there are people like me, and they have grown-up jobs doing what they love. It. Is. Possible!!!!!

My world started to open up because I’m finding so many connections, articles, books, and TV shows that speak to me. It’s like the things that have always existed, but I didn’t notice or was ignoring, are coming to the surface.

Recently, I talked to an editor, Cheryl Klein. I did a little research and found one of her talks, another convocation speech. In it, she talks about the idea of “the wand choosing the wizard,” and how the best time to move is when you have nothing. I’m not tied down by marriage, family, or a career. In this way, all of my past failures and breakups have actually given me the freedom to get up and pursue my dreams.

But, my experience has also shown me that I’m going to struggle a lot and have a hard time. I’m going to. I’m going to have to start at the beginning. There isn’t a shortcut just because I’ve worked and people are not necessarily going to care that I’ve been a teacher.

No matter how much writing I had done, I hadn’t done this before, and the only way to do it was to start at the beginning. Just like everybody else.

It’s not really logical to step away from job security and a salaried job, especially one as stable as teaching. But I know I am not alone. This is the right choice and rather than seeing myself as being too weak or not able to hack teaching, I see it as having the courage to step away what isn’t right for me to go for what might be right. I don’t need to know and no one gets to tell me “I told you so,” because it is all unknown. EVEN IF someday I go back to teaching/a desk job/cashiering, there is absolutely no shame in that because it is my choice. Plus, how could there be shame in working? People get to change their minds and circumstances change. I am done with shame!

My life now makes far more sense than it ever has. My therapist said that when you are doing what aligns with your values, the universe will start to expand and doors will open. (Feels, I know!)

I want to end with a video from Tiffany Young, a former k-pop singer I’ve followed for 10 years now. She inspires me because she left a very very successful career in Korea and came back to the U.S. to start over. At age 29, she is living her best life and starting as a “new” singer. I just love everything about this. You don’t need to be 18 to start a career. Sometimes, the right choice is leaving behind something that isn’t working and starting over. AND, the best part is, you don’t need to be immediately successful. The older I get, the more I realize there is no rush. I am going to be here as long as I am here, and I want to live my fullest and highest-quality life rather than rushing and fearing what happens.

Thank you for coming to my second TED talk! I love you all. Live your best life.